Features » Twitters from Spain
THE EUROPEAN FAMILY
Barrie Mahoney / 2012-03-04 12:22:04
I admit to being a proud European. Although English born and bred, and I still love the United Kingdom, including Scotland if it remains part of the Union, I do not regard myself as being particularly English or British, but European. I know it is not a particularly popular concept at the present time, but I am proud to be European.
Just mention the EU to many Brits and you will probably be greeted by a shrug or a scowl; it is often regarded as a necessary evil, at worst, and as the price to be paid for being part of one of the World’s largest trading blocks, at best. Major infrastructure projects, which have received considerable funding from the EU, usually prefer to ignore that minor fact. I contrast this to Spain and the Canary Islands where projects, both large and small, proudly announce that they are funded by the EU, and usually fly three flags, the Spanish flag, the Canary Islands flag, as well as the European Union flag.
Speaking to a British expat the other day made me realise the depth of the problem. He has lived and worked in the Canary Islands and Spain for about thirty years, but resents the fact that Polish workers, as well as other East European citizens, are now living and working in his home town in the UK. He quite readily accepted the fact that being in the European Union as a British expat means that he can live and work in Spain, or any country within the EU, without the need for a visa or work permit, but resented that benefit being given to workers from other European countries. He could not accept the logic and we agreed to disagree about the issue.
I am also a firm believer in the euro, again a concept that is currently out of favour, even though several new members of the EU still aspire to join the euro one day. Memories are short and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it is not that long ago when UK politicians were endorsing the project with great enthusiasm. The “I told you so” brigade are currently having a wonderful time, reminding the populace they always thought it was a bad idea. Yes, we know the euro monetary system has its flaws, and Greece is currently paying the price of a process that did not apply or stick to the rules that were established at its formation, but the actual concept of a currency that can be used anywhere in Europe is still, to my mind, a wonderful idea.
Now back to my euro-sceptic friend. He firmly believes that having one currency has taken the personality and excitement from travelling to other countries. He much prefers a Europe whereby he has to carry at least six different currencies for a two-week holiday. No, he doesn’t mind being ripped off with high exchange rate charges, nor does he mind losing the value of the remaining currency when he returns home. After all, that suitcase of unspent pesetas, lira and drachmas would be of great interest to the grandchildren in the future, wouldn't they?
For me, this is only part of the story. The fact that I can choose to live and work in any country within the European Union, without a visa or work permit gives me a great sense of freedom, as well as belonging. I can benefit from healthcare, employment, trading and human rights laws that are common to all members of the EU. It comes with a form of protection; a reassurance of knowing that there is a common denominator that applies to all regardless of whether I am in a Scandinavian city or basking on a beach in the Canary Islands.
Of course, I am not naive enough to turn a blind eye to what is also an imperfect system, but it is the best we have. I have only to talk to friends and colleagues from the US and other parts of the world, to realise that we are part of something very special, which is the envy of much of the world. So, to my euro-sceptic friend, I say, of course, there needs to be continual improvement and change within the EU, because it is an evolving project that must adapt to the needs of its people. However, the post war dream of our forefathers, of a Europe, working together in friendship and cooperation for the mutual benefit of all, is an ideal that is still worth striving for.
© Barrie Mahoney